It’s that easy.
If the Colorado Avalanche can do that at home, the wins are sure to come flowing the way they have on the road.
“Simplify. Just keep things simple. Don’t try to do too much because we’re at home,” veteran defenseman Francois Beauchemin said of Colorado’s strategy for winning at Pepsi Center. “We know what our record is. We know we’ve got to be better. It’s just a matter of keeping the same simple game that we’ve been playing on the road. That’s why we’ve been winning. The little details.”
The Avs enter Thursday night’s matchup against the New York Islanders with a tough 4-7-1 record at home and a nice 11-9-0 record on the road. Obviously, translating road success into home success is a primary item on the agenda, right behind just flat out winning.
“We’ve done the job on the road. Now, it’s a matter of playing the same game at home,” Beauchemin said. “It’s not hard. It’s just between our ears. We’ve got to keep things simple. Don’t think about what you should be doing. You know what you have to do, just execute it on the ice.”
Whether it is against New York tonight, the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday or the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, the focus is on the minutiae of the game and the things that brought wins away from Denver.
“We had a good meeting this morning, talking about how we want to play the game and the approach that we want to have. Basically, we want the same approach that we had on the road,” said head coach Patrick Roy. “Sometimes when you get home after a pretty good road trip, you try to do a little too much. We just want to simplify our game, making sure that we’re making good decisions, and we hope to have the same type of starts that we had in those three games. We played with a lead. We were up 2-0 in every one of them. And from there, our goalie did a really good job keeping the game as it was.”
Hand in hand with simple hockey is having a strong start; the kind that sees the puck in the opposing net earlier if not often. Nearly all of the Avs are in agreement there.
“I think it’s important for us to have a good start, first of all. Sometimes when you come off a long road trip, the tendency is to have maybe a little bit of a slow start,” Blake Comeau said. “That’s something we’ve addressed this morning, so I suspect that we’ll be ready to go right away.”
“For us, it’s just a matter of getting a good start tonight and making sure that we play with the lead and [we] play hard, just like we have the past few games,” Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog added. “We managed to have good starts in all three games, and [made] sure that we [played] with the lead.”
Swift execution to begin a contest is important in getting the friendly crowd into the match, but that desire to please is something that Roy said has perhaps handcuffed the club early in the season.
“They’re coming here to see you win a hockey game, basically,” Roy said. “They want a good show, but at the same time they want to see you winning a hockey game. That’s the mentality we need to have.”
Whereas on the road, things are different.
“I think, on the road you have a tendency of playing a little bit more relaxed and not feeling that pressure of not having to win but having to constantly carry the game,” admitted Landeskog. “Sometimes at home, you tend to over play certain situations. So on the road, it’s just a matter of simplifying things, and I think that’s something that we’re going to have to try to translate into tonight.”
It doesn’t take a sleuth to notice that the Avs haven’t been giving up a lot of goals lately. Sure, much of that has to do with netminder Semyon Varlamov, who has been crushing pucks left and right en route to four straight wins and stellar stats in the month of December.
But the other thing that is giving opposing clubs fits is the way the Avalanche is playing between the blue lines. The team kills momentum and speed and restricts zone entry to the point of frustration for many opponents. It came together when Colorado was in New York and has largely been unstoppable since.
“I feel like the more we’ve played with our neutral-zone system, the more everyone’s gotten comfortable with it,” Comeau said of what is working. “It’s not as much thinking as it is just becoming natural now. Everyone knows where they need to go. Everyone knows what we’re trying to accomplish. I think with this last road trip, it really showed how hard it is to play against.
“With the exception of in St. Louis—I thought we had some breakdowns—but in Chicago and Nashville, there was a lot of times during the game where teams don’t generate a lot and they get frustrated. So that’s something going forward we have to continue to do: be a hard team to play against defensively.”
The unit-of-five defensive scheme is working well, but it also isn’t something that Roy is solely focused on.
“It’s not that we want to be a defensive team,” Roy said. “We still want to go in the rush and stuff like this, but we want to make sure we’re making good decisions and we’re smart about going in on offense. I think that’s what we [did] in Chicago. I thought our neutral-zone forecheck was really good. Guys were really committed. Our defensive-zone coverage was good.”
Whether playing on offense or on defense, the team is thinking defense first and that approach is truly paying off.
“I feel like they have a lot of guys that track back really hard, which limits the odd-man rushes,” Comeau said of the Islanders. “I think it’s just going to be one of those games where you've just got to get the puck behind their defense, create a good forecheck; create some offense that way. Like I said, they’ve got some really talented forwards too that also come back. So they’re not afraid to pick your pocket or create some turnovers. That’s what we have to limit against a team like this with the offense they have.
“We saw some of New York’s tendencies. Now, it’s just a matter of us executing the game plan.”